Feeds

NASA pumps $400m into nuclear space probe

Fission-fuelled trip to Jupiter

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Jimo probe, courtesy of NASANASA has awarded Northrop Grumman a $400m contract to co-design the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (Jimo) space probe - slated for a rendevouz with Jovian moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede some time after 2012.

Jimo's mission is to orbit the three satellites for a detailed analysis of each, and in particular investigate the possibility that they have liquid water beneath their frozen surfaces. As is the local custom, scientists believe that such oceans - if present - might harbour primitive life.

The Jimo project has generated a certain amount of controversy due to its uranium-fuelled nuclear fission reactor - which creates electricity to drive the "nuclear electric propulsion (NEP)" system. In simple terms, NEP uses the electricity produced by the reactor to ionise propellant atoms which can then be ejected at high velocity from the vehicle's propulsion system by magnetic or electrified grids. NASA has already proven this "ion drive" technology aboard Deep Space 1, although electricity for the thrusters was in that case provided by solar panels.

Despite safety concerns, NASA reckons that "Space Fission Reactor Power Systems" are the way to go, because they "propel spacecraft directly to the planets in ways not possible today, and perform orbital maneuvers once there; and provide ample electrical power to operate advanced scientific instrument suites that have higher power requirements than instruments used at present".

Jimo's nuclear reactor will be provided by the US Department of Energy's Office of Naval Reactors. Northrop Grumman is involved purely in the vehicle design side, and saw off Boeing and Lockheed Martin to secure the contract. ®

Related stories

Scientists ponder sluggish Pioneers
Mercury mission blasts into solar orbit
ESA on mission to surf gravity's waves

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Brit balloon bod Bodnar overflies North Pole
B-64 amateur ultralight payload approaching second circumnavigation
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?